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Conference Paper


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Publication Details

Industrial Marketing and Purchasing Conference, Glascow, September 2011.


Business-to-business networks are complex dynamic environments alive with processes of continuous change. Research about how firms can account for dynamic change and use this to obtain a sustainable competitive advantage is limited and confused. In addition there is little by way of research aimed at understanding how dyadic relationships and in turn networked organisations account strategically for dynamic change. In addition previous work toward understanding what leads to a sustainable competitive advantage looked at organisational ‘core competencies’ (Prahalad & Hamel, 1990) which arguably took a resourced based view of activities within a ‘the firm’ as an organisational level. Subsequent research focused on ‘capabilities’ (Stalk, Evans, & Shulman, 1992) and in turn ‘dynamic capabilities’ (Zollo & Winter, 2002) shifting the focus of inquiry toward processes. By extension a focus on processes would naturally lead us to consider inter-organisational processes as a natural context for the study of dynamic change. IMP researchers have always taken a healthy interest in conceptual and methodological developments relating to key concepts, such as interaction (Håkansson and Ford, 2003; Ford and Håkansson, 2006), business context (Håkansson and Snehota, 1989) and network horizons (Holmen and Pedersen, 2003) which all imply a dynamic setting in which units of analysis exhibit a durable quality, but with that durability being tested continually by variations in the stability in the composition of those units of analysis. Håkansson and Snehota (1995) address, conceptually, how researchers can incorporate the IMP’s Actor Resource Activity (ARA) model at different scales and among different units of analysis by picturing it in an organization, in dyads and triads of organizations, in nets of small numbers of organizations, and indeed in networks. To date, a dominant trend among IMP researchers is to work at one of these levels and units of analysis, identifying phenomena specific to those ‘other’ levels as matters of context, and perhaps matters beyond a context’s horizon. The crucial question here is what inter-organisational capabilities, which are dynamic in nature, are desirable and represent a clear line of inquiry and focus for research? Many fields and disciplines contribute to this question in their own way. Research has focused on economic processes of absorbing knowledge spillovers (Cockburn & Henderson, 1998; Cohen & Levinthal, 1990; Easterby-Smith, Graca, Antonacopoulou, & Ferdinand, 2008), how organisations learn (Argyris & Schön, 1978) and by extension the learning organisation (Senge, 1990) and whether knowledge itself can be the basis of competitive advantage (Malhotra, 2003)? IMP researchers has tended not to focus attention on how knowledge within business-to-business relationship can influence the interaction approach. This paper, with its interdisciplinary perspective borrows from many fields to highlight how concepts can contribute to the body of work in the industrial marketing and purchasing field.


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